Let's close the show right here

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The Independent Culture
You just can't get the stars. London has seen Patti LuPone, Betty Buckley, Elaine Paige (twice), Rita Moreno and Petula Clark (twice) but that's your lot. Sunset Boulevard is a show about a star, it takes one to play one and there are none to be had, not even for ready money, at least according to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group.

They have a point. Billy Wilder's original, the most glitteringly cynical example of biting the hand that feeds you ever seen on screen, starred Gloria Swanson, then a real-life faded actress making a comeback. There must be any number of divas dying to get their hands on the role but would the public buy them in the role of an icon?

LuPone isn't a household name in this country but she did have the glamour of being American and, prior to opening, people would probably have paid to see Dorothy Squires in the role. Since the generally good but hardly ecstatic reviews appeared, and the first wave of pre-booked audiences passed, business hasn't been quite as brisk as might have been hoped. The theatre may have seemed sold out but that's because large swathes of tickets are presold to ticketing agencies and demand for those has dwindled. Unlike Phantom, Sunset has never been difficult to get into.

Why? Because you are only as good as your last show. Lloyd Webber's last new one - not including the smash-hit revamp of Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was Aspects of Love, which gave the world Michael Ball but not too much else. Disappointed Aspects audiences have been further turned off by Sunset's downbeat mood. And audience satisfaction is absolutely crucial in what ultimately sells a show: word of mouth.

The other problem is that little in the show makes you want to rush back and see it again, another key to a musical's longevity. A song, a dance routine, or a performance should leave you gasping for more. People return again and again to hit shows in a way they rarely do with straight plays. "As If We Never Said Goodbye" and the hydraulics are the highest Sunset gets, but it hasn't been enough to sustain it.

The big question is the timing: why did it happen now? A whole new advertising campaign has just broken and last week they were auditioning cast replacements. Curiouser and curiouser. Various pundits are prophesying the death of the musical. They clearly haven't spoken to the National Theatre box-office. Tickets for Guys and Dolls are rarer than hen's teeth.

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